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The Hammer and the Rat

Text of Poem

The teetering carpenter sets his spike
and draws back his hammer cocked to strike
when he sees a rat poke out under the shed
so he aims the hammer at the rat instead.
But the rat draws back so he turns again
to wallop the nail on the studding when
the rat unabashed slides his whole body out
and the carpenter quick does a right-face-about
on the weaving ladder to get a good aim
with his poised hammer but spoiling the game
the rat ducks back in his hole and the nail
waits for the hammer still raised like a flail.
Released from the angle the carpenter veers
back toward the nail as the rat reappears
and freezes the movement he had just begun.
Here is the oldest play under the sun
the nail never driven, the rat never dead
because two ideas are in the man’s head
opposed to each other but hopelessly wed.
The carpenter may be there twisting yet
though by this time no doubt the ladder has let
him fall from dilemma down into the mud—
O pray that at last he fell into the mud.

First Line
The teetering carpenter sets his spike
Original Pub Location
Original Publication Date
Original Citation
Country Men (1943) 59.
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Bibliographic Notes

Not included in earlier editions of Country Men.